We have produced a series of coffee-break short videos explaining how implementing good data management supports an organisation’s quality improvement, reduces its exposure to financial clawback and can provide effective evidence to meet the requirements of the Common Inspection Framework.
In the world of further education (FE), the Individualised Learner Record (ILR) is of crucial importance. It directly impacts your funding in terms of how much you receive in your allocations, in how much you may lose in a provider audit and is indirectly linked to how you are judged at inspection. Having a clean and optimised ILR is therefore crucial to the long-term prospects of any FE institution. To achieve this an organisation must have robust data management practices. We would argue that data management is much broader than the ILR and to truly excel, providers must use their data creatively to generate useful information and knowledge about their business.
Often ILR, audit and inspection are viewed as necessary evils, the FE equivalent of visiting the dentist. However, getting these right and embedding good practice into your everyday business processes means your organisation is always prepared for audit and inspection - the equivalent of the pain-free, in-and-out visit to the dentist, if you will!
We are going to run through some basic principles of data management and how your everyday practices can help prepare you for audit, continuous assessment and quality improvement so your organisation is ready for when the audit or Ofsted call comes.
'...embedding good practice into your everyday business processes means your organisation is always prepared for audit and inspection'
TIP: Nearly everything around progression is of interest to an organisation and inspection so I would advise all providers to think how they use progress codes. This is a simple way to improve the information you store in the system. It is very wise to always use progress codes to specify the different types of withdrawal for example. Withdrawal behaviour, withdrawal sickness, withdrawal moved, etc.
Data management and the ILR
This may seem like FE 101 but it is very easy for provider documentation to miss something important especially when providers must balance the need to collect the required information in a way that is pleasing (or at least not off-putting to the learner). I would caution against two possible mistakes here. The first is to craft your enrolment documentation with insufficient attention to the needs of the ILR. One example of this was a provider that included a series of structured questions to their enrolment form to obtain the household situation. However, in changing the wording on the form, the provider did not collect the answers in a way that could be recorded in the ILR in all circumstances, which meant that members had to spend time much later reconciling the HHS information to the ILR. We would therefore recommend that MIS staff that understand the funding requirements are part of the process to create the documentation for that year.
The other issue is realising the potential for going beyond the ILR. For example, the employment section of the ILR only requires providers to record the learner employment status, the date, the benefit status, where the learner is self-employed, etc. It does not require learners to record the learner’s employment aspirations (e.g. are they attending this course in the hope of changing jobs, promotion or career development?). This information may be recorded in the learner’s Individual Learning Plan, but many providers do not record the information from their ILP electronically, making it much more difficult to use this information later (e.g. in your SAR). For example, suppose a learner attended a course with your organisation with a view to changing jobs. If you recorded the aspiration you can record the outcome with reference to it.
If the learner was successful in their desired outcome, you could record the achievement and record the distance travelled. If the answer is no, you can record whether the learner felt that the course helped them. If it did you can record that; if it didn’t, you can take the feedback. Also you can have an eye on the long-term progression. We would like to keep in touch to see how you get on? Is that okay? This may all seem like extra work but there are also opportunities to cross-sell if the learner has clearly expressed an aspiration to achieve a particular goal and you believe there are potentially several courses you offer that can help them realise it. In any event, the long-term progression of the learner is becoming a more important priority for the government and it is why companies like Tribal are investing in social media applications for use by students and alumni.
Data management and the ILR: DSATs
Provider data self-assessment toolkit (DSATs) should be done regularly and by someone with sufficient knowledge of the ILR and funding. This avoids the stress points of the ILR and allows you to identify and deal with issues as they arise. DSATs are also in scope for Provider Assurance Audit in addition to the actual sample, so having a clean DSAT will safeguard funding but also give you the additional piece of mind. As DSATs were developed by the auditors, there is no reason why providers cannot use DSAT as the auditor would do by using the sampling option and then applying the same tests as the auditor would. Providers can use the ‘Sampling’ section of DSAT to randomly test your learners at any point of the year to see how you are doing.
Providers must take action based on the findings of their own audit and amend their processes accordingly. There are no short cuts. The best way to be sure your learners have been processed correctly is to test them yourselves and taken action based on your own findings. A common theme of this webinar and others Tribal have run is to counsel for continuous ongoing improvement and never to be complacent. Even if the results are bad, it is infinitely better to say, "this is what we found and we could potentially have lost ‘X’ and here is what we need to do" than have an actual auditor find those issues and them say: "This is how much funding is at risk". David Baber highlights one feature of strong providers is that they are very self-critical but not negative. Always looking for improvement not assigning blame.
To hear more about best practice in data management, including the vital role it plays in continuous quality improvement, access our series of coffee-break videos and enhance the role you play in your organisation’s successful outcomes.
About Data Management Services
The Data Management Services (DMS) team provides data, funding and MI support for a wide range of public and private sector providers, that between them are delivering all types of provision from apprenticeships and traineeships to ESF and EFA programmes as well as community learning and loan funded provision. Although we can and do provide short term help to provide critical cover at crucial times, our main business is to provide tailored long-term data and funding solutions to organisations in a way that complements their organisation, fills any skills gaps they may have in their organisation which frees their staff for other business critical functions.